Saturday, April 6, 2024

Hirado, a Brief Guide.


Hirado is an island just off the coast of what is now Nagasaki prefecture, that though not so well known or visited was in historical times a major point of contact between Japan and the outside world.

Since 1977 a suspension bridge has connected the island to the mainland, but a small ferry also still runs across the 600-meter-wide strait and connects to the Tabirahiradoguchi station on the Matsuura Railways Nishikyushu Line, incidentally the westernmost railway station in Japan until the opening of the Okinawan Monorail. Buses from Hirado also connect with Sasebo.

The main town and harbour is quite picturesque and overlooked by Hirado Castle. The Union Jack fags are commemorating the 400th anniversary of the establishment of trade between Jaan and England in 1613. The man largely responsible for this was William Adams, the historical model for the fictional character in the novel and subsequent TV series Shogun. Adams spent the last 11 years of his life in Hirado. After a few years, the English gave up trade with Japan, ignoring Adam's advice, but gave Japan the sweet potato while here. Adams's grave, the site of his house, and the site of the English trading post are all well marked.

The Portuguese had been a presence in Hirado long before the English arrived. Portuguese traders arrived in 1549, and in 1550 the missionary Francies Xavier spent some time here. That is memorialized by the St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church on a hill overlooking the harbour. There are several other churches on the island as a reminder of the "Hidden Christians" who lived here during the Edo period. Following a fracas with local samurai that left 14 Portuguese dead, the Portuguese moved to what is now Nagasaki and were banned from Hirado

The Europeans with the biggest presence in Hirado were the Dutch. An accurate replica of their factory has been opened housing a museum. The Dutch arrived in 1609, the same time as William Adams, and stayed until 1641 until they were ordered to Dejima by the Shogunate. A monument has been erected to the Japanese wives and children of the Dutch traders who were exiled to Djakarta when the Dutch were moved to Dejima. A "Dutch Bridge"  that crosses to the former samurai district was not built until long after the Dutch had left Hirado.

Long before the Europeans arrived Hirado was an important point of contact with China. In the early 9th Century missions to and from China used Hirado. The most famous of these involved the monk Kobo Daishi, and the spot where he set sail is memorialized, and where he conducted a goma ceremony on his return from China is now the impressive Saikyoji Temple. In later centuries many other monks left and returned from China through Hirado, most famously Eisai, the introducer of Zen to Japan.

Hirado was controlled for almost a millennia by the Matsuura Clan. Though they never became one of the greater clans, they managed to keep control of Hirado. Involved in the defence of the area against the Mongol Invasion, they fought on the losing side at the Battle of Dannoura. Operating pretty much as pirates for some time, they also fought in Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea. Their former mansion above Hirado is now an excellent museum as is their castle overlooking the harbour.

Often overlooked by visitors, Hirado has plenty of interesting sites and is well worth a couple of days exploring. This was my second visit, while on Day 68 of my walk around Kyushu on the 108 temple Shingon pilgrimage.

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